Health / Expert Advice

Why Do the Holidays Make Us Feel So Guilty?

Have your cake and eat it too.

The holidays are meant to be one of the happiest times of the year. But, for some, this season brings up feelings of guilt and negativity that can take away from the joyous occasion. Here, we break down a bit more about why the holidays get us down—from food guilt to financial stress—and how to raise our spirits again.

Food Guilt

Food is a huge culprit of guilt. We all look forward to that huge feast on a holiday, but it’s also one of the most common triggers of stress and anxiety. Holiday food equals a lot more temptation for people to overindulge. It means using more willpower than usual to resist it, which can ruin a great day.

How you approach the holidays and this food guilt all depends on how overeating affects you. If you have a well-balanced diet most of the time, then one or two days of eating completely stress- and diet-free won’t affect your process in the long run. Just enjoy yourself, get back on track the next day, and don’t look back.

However, if you find that every time you overeat, your progress derails for the next few weeks or even months, then some restraint is recommended. During lunch or dinner, fill the majority of your plate with yummy vegetables first. That way, you fill up on nutrient-dense food that can also curb your hunger. When it’s dessert time, have a little bit of each cake or pie instead of full slices. You’ll satisfy your cravings without going into a downward spiral.

Indulging doesn’t mean scarfing down your food without actually tasting it. It means mindfully eating. Pay attention to how the food smells and tastes, and really take your time savoring it. This will help you feel more satisfied and you’ll definitely appreciate the meal more.

If food guilt is something that you regularly struggle with, it may be helpful to consult a professional. A dietitian or other health expert can help you work through your food issues and improve your relationship with eating overall. You’ll be better equipped to make healthy and balanced choices when you eat.

Family Conflict

There’s so much emphasis on spending precious time with your family during the holidays. But it isn’t that simple for those who may be experiencing family conflict.

If you’re currently dealing with a specific issue in your family or you just experience general anxiety around your family, there are steps you can take ahead of the holidays to try to quell the tension. If you have a big family gathering on your schedule, try talking to a few family members ahead of it. Ask them to leave any personal grudges or arguments at the door—and agree to do the same. It’s a special day, so it isn’t unreasonable to want it to be fight-free. Also, if you know that certain topics (typically politics!) bring out the worst in people, then make a request to avoid that subject. Focus on lighthearted stories that’ll bring about laughter and smiles instead.

The truth is, some family members are never going to change their views or ways. While it’s important to be heard in your family when you express yourself, it’s also important to prioritize your own sanity. If you simply cannot agree with or get along with certain family members, it might be time to consider changing your holiday plans for next year. You can always schedule time with the family members that you do mix well with during the year.

Perfectionism

There can be a lot of pressure to make the holidays perfect. This is especially true if you’re the one hosting a get-together for family and friends. Focusing too much on perfection can ruin your good mood, and you might feel frazzled and completely stressed out instead.

To ease some of that stress, delegate tasks. Your family and friends will not mind participating in holiday activities, especially if it’ll help you. Instead of cooking the entire feast yourself, organize a potluck. Each person can bring their favorite dish or drink. Just be sure to write out a list so that you don’t end up with too many desserts and not enough lunch or dinner.

There’s also some stress that comes from gift giving. It’s a wonderful time of year to exercise some generosity to your loved ones, but don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the exact right thing to get someone. Instead, simply ask people what they want. And, yes, gift cards are actually fine!

Financial Stress

Thanks to all that aforementioned gift giving and traveling, the holidays are a notoriously expensive time. If you’re under financial strain, you may not be able to afford the presents you want to get for everyone, which can result in feels of shame.

It’s easy to fall into the trap that the best presents are the most expensive ones—but this isn’t necessarily true. There are plenty of other options that will show your appreciation to your loved ones just as much. To save money, you can make gifts. Think about any hobbies or secret talents you have. Do you enjoy knitting? Make a special sweater or scarf just for mom. Are you good at hand-lettering or calligraphy? Create and frame a design for your sister to hang in her house. Don’t be afraid of a little DIY project.

Another way to say goodbye to holiday guilt is by organizing a gift exchange with a group of people. You’ll only need to buy a present for one person, and no one will be left out or accidentally forgotten. By setting an agreed-upon budget as well, you know exactly how much you need to spend. This can also cut down on shopping time, which means no fighting for a parking space!

Enjoy yourself!

Holidays are meant to be fun. Think about how wonderful it is to be with your loved ones instead of feeling guilty and stressed. Nothing makes the holidays more lively than when everyone is happy, so enjoy the moment. Your friends and family don’t care if everything isn’t perfect. They only care about spending time together, and that’s really what the holidays are all about.

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